Alcoholism remains a common global concern. This disorder is taking lives, and it is destroying families. The NIH reports that about 6.3% of people in the US participate in one or more sessions of heavy drinking every month. Among adults, alcohol use disorder is observed in over 14 million individuals. Even in the younger population, more than 400,000 teenagers may be experiencing signs of alcohol use disorder.
One of the most common questions asked: “Is there a cure for alcoholism?”
Answering this question is a complex process. A specific cure that provides lifelong results without any further effort from the addict has not been found. This, however, does not mean no effective treatments exist. In fact, with a supportive system and treatments initiated, many people are able to overcome alcoholism and live a fulfilling, sober life.
Curing Alcoholism: Is It Possible?
We start by considering whether there is an actual way to cure alcoholism. This is one of the most common questions asked not only by alcoholics but also by those who are close to them.
Researchers have noted that alcoholism should be considered a chronic disease. The patient gets to a point where they lose control. They continuously revert back to alcohol. Even when the person decides to stop, they soon find themselves with a bottle in their hand again.
There are numerous studies conducted on this topic. Medical experts have taken a look at how patients respond to various types of treatments. A large range of different treatment options has been studied and accepted as methods of helping patients with alcohol use disorder.
Even though there are treatments, these procedures and strategies do not provide a complete or absolute cure for alcoholism.
A single treatment program is not going to take away the urge to go back to alcohol forever. There isn’t a single pill that can help to completely stop cravings for alcohol. Treatment is based on a long-term approach, and recovery happens gradually. Once an alcoholic, the person would face a risk of relapse in the future.
The good news, however, is that a lot of people have been able to recover to the point where they no longer even think about alcohol. Some of these individuals have turned their lives around completely and created a level of success for themselves that were not possible previously.
The fact that no cure exists should not be considered a reason for an alcoholic to avoid treatment. There are supportive systems and communities that help people overcome their addiction to alcohol with great success. With the continued support given, these patients experience a gradual reduction in their risk of relapse, too.
Current Treatments for Alcoholism
Multiple rehabilitation facilities have been structured to help patients recover from alcoholism. There are also community programs available for patients who are unable to gain access to a more professional setting for any reason.
With such a versatile range of treatment options available, patients need to realize that recovery is possible. The first step, however, lies with the individual themselves.
The initial step is for an intake counselor to have a session with the patient. These counselors are experienced in working with alcoholics. They know how to determine the severity of alcoholism in a patient. These counselors are also able to identify co-occurring disorders in the patient.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are multiple co-occurring disorders commonly found among patients with alcoholism.
A personalized plan will be developed for the patient. This is important since withdrawal symptoms, severity, co-occurring conditions, and other elements may differ from one to another. This personalized plan will provide treatments that are appropriate for the specific patient.
There are a few different options that may be included in a personalized alcoholism treatment plan. We will consider these to help individuals understand what to expect and see what may work for them.
Alcoholism treatment does not initially start with a conventional strategy. Instead, the patient needs to undergo detoxification first.
Detox at a rehabilitation center, like Stonegate Center in Texas, works to help minimize the effects of withdrawal – something that patients will go through once they top using alcohol.
During detox, the patient is placed in a safe environment. In this environment, the patient is not exposed to alcohol, drugs, or anything that could trigger addictive behavior. Abstinence from alcohol is the priority during detox.
There are studies that provide evidence of the important role that a detox phase plays in alcoholism treatment. This is the time during which the patient goes through withdrawal – and the withdrawal symptoms will also be at their worst throughout the detoxification process.
Medical staff needs to monitor patients 24/7 during this time, as there are some serious complications associated with alcohol withdrawal. Not every patient will experience serious side-effects, but the possibility remains – especially for those with a severe dependency on alcohol, addiction to other substances, or existing concurrent diagnoses.
There have been cases of epileptic seizures, coma, gait disturbances, and dementia associated with alcoholism. When these are identified early on during withdrawal, medical staff can take appropriate action. This ensures treatment for such complications will be more successful. More serious complications can often be avoided when early treatment is provided too.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Other Group Meetings
When the patient reaches a point of sobriety, following a phase-in detox, they will be given access to a supportive system. The goal of this system is to help the patient connect with loved ones, as well as gain inspiration from others who have gone through similar issues. Furthermore, the support system implemented helps the patient deal with their personal emotional troubles.
AA meetings are very common among recovering addicts. There are several studies that have looked at the efficacy of AA meetings among patients recovering from alcoholism. Overall, the results do seem positive for many participants.
In one study, researchers find that alcohol use is reduced in both the short term and the long term with the help of AA meetings. The same study shows that an increase in attendance at these sessions tend to have better results.
With this in mind, patients are advised to comply with the scheduled sessions at an AA meeting. This would ultimately ensure the person gains maximum benefits and value from every meeting and give them the ability to have more control over their will to leave alcohol behind in the long run.
It should still be noted that AA meetings do not seem to work in every single case. While effective, some patients do still relapse even after having high attendance in AA meetings.
While a group therapy session has its benefits, it does not address the issues that the individual person faces. The group can share their success stories, provide support to each other, and ultimately becomes an inspiration. Yet, this may not cater to the specific mental health concerns faced by the patient.
This is why additional one-on-one counseling sessions are also advised for patients recovering from alcoholism.
A licensed therapist or counselor will be present and active during these sessions. The therapist will generally be experienced in working with people who experience addiction-related problems.
During these one-on-one sessions, the first step is for the counselor to understand the patient better. The counselor will try to single out specific issues that are damaging to the patient’s mental health. They will also try to consider potential reasons that explain why the individual became an alcoholic in the first place.
Identifying these triggers and causes can be exceptionally helpful. With strategies like cognitive behavior therapy, the patient’s thinking process toward certain elements can be modified to support new thought patterns and influence new, positive behaviors.
Counseling helps the patient come to terms with the challenges that they face in terms of their mental health. The patient will also be given a safe space where they can discuss their current mental health, thoughts, and issues that they might be struggling with.
Counselors will generally create a comprehensive report to help the entire treatment team understand what can be done to help the patient.
Withdrawal can sometimes be serious, especially if the patient has been dependent on alcohol for a long time. One study explains that withdrawal symptoms generally start within the first 24 hours after the person had their last drink. These can sometimes be threatening to the patient’s own life and include symptoms like delirium tremens, autonomic hyperactivity, and agitation.
Certain medications are given to patients as a way to assist during the withdrawal and detoxification stages. These medications will only be prescribed by a licensed physician overseeing the care of the patient. In most cases, medical staff, such as nurses, will administer the drugs to the patient.
A common type of drug class used to assist in alcoholism treatment is known as benzodiazepines. The class contains several drugs that may assist in reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms the patient experiences. A fixed-dose may be provided to the patient, or the healthcare provider may decide on a symptom-triggered administration method instead.
With a symptom-triggered approach, the patient is provided a benzodiazepine when there is a recurrence of certain intense withdrawal symptoms.
A short-acting benzodiazepine is mostly often used in these cases. This provides temporary relief for withdrawal symptoms without exposing the patient to a new, potentially addictive drug. A long-acting option is also sometimes used, depending on the situation. This can help patients who suffer from more consistent and frequent symptoms.
In severe cases of alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal, patients may need to be hospitalized. In even rarer cases, the patient is temporarily admitted to the ICU unit of a hospital. This provides them with more comprehensive supervision and care.
Apart from benzodiazepines, there are two alternative treatments sometimes provided to patients with severe withdrawal. These tend to include the use of either propofol or barbiturates.
A number of adjunctive medications are also recommended by some doctors. Alpha2-agonists, such as dexmedetomidine, may assist in reducing the neuroautonomic hyperactivity a patient experiences. Beta-blockers have also been shown to provide an effective option in these cases.
There are some patients who experience hallucinations as a side-effect during alcohol withdrawal. This can usually be controlled with the use of neuroleptic drugs.
There are studies investigating the use of alternative drugs too. These drugs may provide effective relief to withdrawal symptoms but still need more research data before they can be used as conventional treatments.
Some studies are looking at how gabapentin and baclofen could potentially help treat the withdrawal symptoms that occur when a patient is detoxed from alcohol addiction. Topiramate, sodium oxybate, and carbamazepine are other options currently being researched.
The Treatment Setting
It is not only the specific treatments that count but also the environment in which a patient receives treatment that can indicate higher likelihood of alcoholism recovery.
Detoxification of alcoholism will usually be done at an in-patient facility. This is due to the risks associated with alcohol withdrawal. Medical staff needs to be able to act immediately if complications develop.
Following detoxification, the patient is provided access to either an outpatient or an inpatient solution. Inpatient treatments are called residential services and provide around the clock care, while outpatient treatments require the patient to check-in at specific scheduled times.
Addressing Co-Occurring Disorders and Complications
Alcoholism is a disorder that is often accompanied by other illnesses. It is common to find that a patient who is an alcoholic also develops additional complications. Certain conditions have also been associated with a risk of alcoholism.
Patients undergoing treatment will usually be assessed for mental health problems. It is very common for alcoholics to experience signs of mental illnesses.
Studies show that common associations and co-occurring mental conditions include:
- Major depressive disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder
These conditions can result in a barrier to a treatment program initiated for the patient.
In most cases, the intake counselor assessing the patient will consider the possibility of co-occurring illnesses.
When a patient has a co-occurring disorder, this illness needs to be treated too. This is important, as failing to attend to the mental well-being of the person impacts their ability to respond to treatment.
To provide an example – a patient with alcoholism and depression will generally have a high risk of relapse. The depression symptoms may also become worse when the patient undergoes withdrawal symptoms. This can lead to disastrous effects in some patients.
Thus, treatment for these co-occurring disorders will give the patient a better chance at recovery. It also helps to minimize the complications that may occur with co-occurring disorders while a patient is undergoing recovery and withdrawal.
Careful administration and prescription become an important factor here. Since addiction has been noted in the patient, the administration of drugs for a mental illness needs to be monitored. This is usually preferred during the earlier stages of treatment. It helps to minimize the risks of prescription drug abuse in a patient with addictive behaviors.
The Role of a Rehabilitation Facility in Alcoholism Treatment
The success rate of alcoholism treatment tends to decline when a person tries to give up by themselves. An at-home treatment procedure often does not come with adequate supportive structures to help the patient gain access to counseling and related services. During withdrawal, many symptoms can develop – and this often causes a patient to relapse.
A male patient may seek out a long-term residential alcohol treatment center for men in Texas. This type of treatment center would cater specifically to men and consider the withdrawal symptoms these patients may experience.
With a more severe case, a medically supervised detox center for chronic alcohol abuse near Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, may serve a more appropriate purpose. Detoxification plays an important part in the process of recovering from alcoholism. Thus, when a patient looks for the best alcohol rehab center near me, they should consider whether detox is part of the treatment.
During the detoxification process, close supervision by medical experts needs to be provided. Some patients have severe withdrawal symptoms. This can be hard to manage, but the medical staff knows how to deal with these patients. Support is given to help the patient push through without relapsing back to their old habits.
Continuous treatment can then be provided to the patient. This may be in a residential or outpatient setting – depending on the findings of the medical staff assigned to the person. Long-term treatment is needed to help reduce the risk of a relapse, especially after the patient is released from the treatment facility.
Alcoholism is a disastrous disorder causing violence, death, and several complications. The condition does affect not only the alcoholic but also the ones they love. No cure exists for alcoholism, which means there is no magic pill to take and completely forget about the hard times that came with alcoholism. There are, however, treatments that help – but only if the patient dedicates themselves to achieving sobriety and remaining sober.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.